My name is Emilie François, I’m Belgian, and I’m 18 years old. I just finished my eight-month project with the European Solidarity Corps in Slovenia. To round off this project, I was asked to write an article and summarize my year. I tried for a long time to condense everything that happened, but the intensity of this year is so immense that summarizing it, feels like trivializing this adventure. So, I decided to go back to the beginning of why I embarked on this journey and to speak to the little me, who didn’t quite know where to go. Who had just finished school and panicked at the thought of having to make a choice for the future.

“Dear little Emilie,

as I write to you, it’s already been eight months since you left. You’ve just completed your journey in Slovenia, and you’ve grown so much. I remember that fear, that panic in the face of the unknown. Finishing secondary school without knowing what the future holds, without a clear plan, except for that burning desire to leave and discover life. You are probably searching for a project that will ignite your passion, something that resonates with you, a project that will stir new emotions and sensations within you.

You’re dreaming of a gap year that’s out of the ordinary, a year full of surprises, joy, and learning. You’re dreaming of extraordinary encounters, cultural discoveries, and perfecting your English. You’re dreaming of freedom and independence, but the fear of being alone, without bearings, haunts you.

I have only one thing to tell you: never give up on your dreams. Even if the urge to abandon everything and enroll in the nearest university crosses your mind, don’t do it. Hold on to hope, keep searching, because you will find what you’re looking for.

I return from a year that transformed me, a year where constant pressure, the stress of always having to be at the top, and incessant questions vanished. I come back fulfilled, having finally found out who I am.

Allow me to tell you a bit about what you will experience, to make you dream even more, because what I am about to share feels like a waking dream. And yet, I’ve livedit all this year.

You will leave for a year in Slovenia, for a project with the European Solidarity Corps. There, you will work at the Vic Youth Center and participate in various projects of Zavod Nefiks, the organization that will host you. They will support and carry you throughout the year, and no doubt well beyond. You will find a little cocoon there, where you will immediately feel at home. Your coordinator will watch over you as if you were her own daughter, providing you with a sense of security throughout the year.

There, you will learn to settle down, not always to be running everywhere. You will meet touching children and gradually discover your vocation. You will develop valuable life skills, guided by your mentor.

This year will also be rich in encounters. You will share your project with your Italian roommate. Everything will seem to oppose you, and no one would believe in your friendship. Yet, she will become one of the most important people in your project, your confidante, your moral support, your adventure partner. You will also meet other volunteers, often older than you, who will become like a second family. With them, you will travel, discover Slovenia and the world around you. They will teach you about life, share their experiences, and push you to surpass yourself. You will feel loved and at home. Some will become lifelong friends, the age difference will become trivial, and you will look forward to reuniting with them to share more adventures. You will meet a boy who will manage to break through your barriers and enter your heart of stone. For the first time, you will experience a love story that, I hope, is just beginning.

This year away from everything will allow you to learn a lot about yourself. You will travel a lot, discover nature by going on adventures. The hikes you hated as a child will become a passion. They will allow you to recharge your batteries and marvel at the beauty of nature. You will learn that you are not solitary, and that is perfectly normal. You will realize that you are capable of anything, as long as you have the motivation.

And when the end of your journey comes, when it’s time to say goodbye to this chapter of your life, you will realize how much you loved this year and how difficult it is to come home. You will thank all those who allowed you to live such a wonderful project and return home with a heart and mind full of memories to share. You will come back with a goal: to help those who are looking for such an adventure to find their own path.

Always remember that anything is possible as long as hope is there.

Emilie, your future self.”